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The 10 Biggest Resume Deal-Breakers (and How to Avoid Them)

Topics: Career Advice
Does your job search feel like it’s going nowhere? If you’re sending out multiple applications – through job boards, corporate sites and networking connections – without getting a response, the problem might be your resume.
resume deal-breakers
Antonio Guillem/Getty Images

Recently, TopResume asked 379 recruiters, hiring managers and HR executives, “What are your biggest resume ‘deal-breakers’ that can cost a candidate the job?” They came up with the following list:

  1.     Spelling and/or grammatical errors (79%)
  2.     Incorrect or missing contact information (52%)
  3.     Unprofessional email address (46%)
  4.     Outdated or irrelevant information (hobbies, age, marital status, etc.) (45%)
  5.     Failure to demonstrate and quantify results (33%)
  6.     Annoying buzzwords and/or obvious keyword stuffing (32%)
  7.     Too generalized/not customized to match job listing (32%)
  8.     Repetitive words or phrases used in multiple job descriptions (28%)
  9.     Including a headshot (28%)
  10.     Format and/or design is too elaborate (28%)

If your resume includes any of these blunders, that might be why you’re not hearing much from hiring managers.

“We’ve all heard you never get a second chance to make a first impression, which is especially true when submitting your resume,” says Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, in a statement. “Our recent survey reveals that job seekers may be sabotaging their chances with a hiring manager or recruiter, for mistakes that would take them only a minute to correct. The truth is that they simply don’t know what the recruiters want, which is a source of growing frustration for candidates.”

Twenty-eight percent of recruiters cringe when they see your headshot on a job application. Click To Tweet

How to Avoid the Biggest Resume Deal-Breakers

The good news, according to Augustine, is that “these resume mistakes are all within the job seeker’s control.”

She offers PayScale readers the following checklist. Review your resume against this list before you submit it to a prospective employer, and you can avoid the worst blunders:

Amanda Augustine

1. You can easily avoid the top resume deal-breaker by taking a few extra minutes to carefully proofread your resume. Make a copy of your resume and change the font to something other than the one you plan on using for your final document. Then, print it out. Our brains read words in print more carefully than when reading on a screen. Read the resume aloud to pick up any awkward phrasing or repetitive language you’ll need to adjust. If you trip over your words when reading your resume out loud, you can assume the recruiter will have the same issue. Also, read your resume, starting at the bottom, and work your way up. This will help you catch any errant typos.

2. Check out tools like Grammarly to help you find the subtler writing mistakes and contextual spelling errors that spell-check may not catch. If you know someone who majored in English or is a self-proclaimed grammar geek, ask them to review your resume for spelling and grammatical errors, as well. Click on the following link for more tips on proofreading your resume.

3. To ensure your contact information is accurately picked up by the applicant tracking system (ATS), avoid using the Header section of a Word document or inserting an image that contains these important details.

4. I recommend creating a professionally appropriate email address — usually some combination of your name and your desired field — with a provider like Gmail that’s reserved for all your job-search and networking activities. In addition to being a great personal-branding opportunity, this dedicated email address will help you stay on top of your communication with recruiters and other valuable networking contacts.

5. Delete any unnecessary personal information, such as your social security number, marital status, religious or political affiliation, and get rid of the headshot. Many recruiters will skip over resumes that contain these details, as they don’t want to risk discriminatory accusations during the hiring process.

6. Stick to a simple, clean resume design that makes it easy for the recruiter to skim your information and understand your career narrative. When it comes to format and design, less is more. Save the charts, images, and other elaborate bells-and-whistles for your online portfolio (if applicable). If you’re looking for inspiration, check out some of TopResume’s sample resumes.

7. Remember, “buzzwords” and “keywords” are different and should be treated as such on your resume. Buzzwords tend to be fluffy terms we use to talk about our softer skills, without providing any proof of these capabilities. If you wouldn’t use the term when describing yourself to someone at a networking event, think twice about adding it to your resume. If you’re having trouble figuring out which keywords belong on your resume, put a few similar job descriptions into a word cloud like Wordle to identify which terms routinely pop up in the roles you’re interested in. If you possess those skills or experience, incorporate them into your resume.

8. If you’re finding it difficult to demonstrate and quantify your work results, think in terms of faster, better, more efficient. If you didn’t show up to work for a day or two, what would fall through the cracks? If you’re having trouble transforming your Work Experience section from a list of job descriptions to a collection of contributions and achievements, speak to a resume writer who can expertly assist with the wording.

Need more tips? Watch Augustine’s latest Facebook Live event, where she and recruiting expert David Gaspin discuss more resume mistakes and how to avoid them.

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Have you made any of these mistakes on your resume? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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